Family Biz: When Your Business Partner is Your Spouse

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Husband and wife Brian and Autumn Merritt own Sir & Madame boutique in Chicago

When your business partner is your spouse it’s important to take extra measures to keep any work conflict from overflowing into the marriage. Take for example, Brian, 29, and Autumn Merritt, 27, co-owners of the fashion boutique Sir & Madame in Chicago. They also are the proud new parents of a very sociable 8-month-old boy, Ari Merritt, who’s been made an honorary employee, which predominantly means smiling and teething. Black Enterprise caught up with the married business owners to talk about how to maintain a successful marriage and family while running a family business. They make it look very easy but as Autumn stated: “It’s a work in progress.”  Here are six tips the couple say has kept their marriage, family, and business together and progressive.

1.  Communication – Brian says this is needed for work life and home life. “We try not to take the work home. I think when we don’t agree on certain things in the store when it comes to buying, we talk about the pros and the cons and which pros outweigh which cons. We also bring the staff in when we’re not agreeing on something, to keep it diplomatic.”

2.  Set boundaries – Autumn believes in trusting your partner if they say they are going to do something and believing that they are going to follow through. “Not everything has to be black and white with the boundaries. If it’s one person in charge of the paperwork, trust that that person can do it. If that’s going to be the man’s job or woman’s job, let it be that.”

3. Depend on spirituality – Brian says you should make whatever god you believe in a constant in your family, marriage, and business. “You have to have a strong spirituality,” he says. “The last month has been like that for us; the economy was slow, we just moved to a new space, and God has been doing us justice.”

4. Be prepared to step down – Understand that your blueprint may not be what’s best for the business. Autumn believes you should pick your battles wisely. “You’re going to butt heads. Don’t lose every battle and give up on everything, but know that you’re not going to win every battle either.” Brian adds: “You have to learn how to balance something that is supposed to last forever with something that could potentially fail and potentially destroy your relationship.”

5.  Seek help with parenting – Take people up on their offers to help. Autumn and Brian take Ari with them to work every day, but he has his own space and he’s pretty easy going. When it comes to the parents getting their own time, they are not afraid to use their support group. “Fortunately, we have parents who go through Ari withdrawal every two-to-three weeks and we’re able to take advantage of that support system,” says Autumn.

6. Strengths and weaknesses – Be honest with yourself and your partner about what you can and can’t do well. Brian understands that he’s not a numbers guy and, for the business to succeed, that’s not something he should spend the majority of his time on. “I’m not very organized so we pay people to do those types of things. I don’t think I can keep the business growing if I’m doing tedious paperwork instead of coming up with deals and making connections for the company. Accounting does accounting,” he says.

For more Family Biz resources read:

The Family Business Institute

5 Questions to Ask Before Hiring Relatives

5 Tips on Working with Family

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